Until the Last Goodbye: 2015 in New Zealand pop

Last year I did a summary of New Zealand pop and I noted that it had been a slow year. This year it’s even slower.

In 2014, 23 songs by New Zealand artists charted; in 2015 only 15 did. And that’s in an X Factor year. But the chart has been slower in general, due to streaming data now helping determine the charts. So songs stick around for longer – if a song is popular on Spotify, it’ll still chart.

But somehow songs by New Zealand artists usually aren’t popular streaming choices. Of the top 100 tracks listened to by New Zealand users of Spotify in 2015, only four were by New Zealand artists, and of those, three were by Six60 (the other was Savage). I have a few theories as to why this is happening.

  1. We speak English so we can happily listen to music from other English-speaking countries, without the need for a local music industry making music in our native tongue. And it means that local English-language pop is up against the best from the UK, America and Sweden.
  2. New Zealanders have a weird attitude towards pop, the national equivalent of a teen who has started wearing black and declaring that they only listen to “real” music by “real” artists who play “real” instruments.
  3. 15 years ago, “supporting New Zealand music” meant buying physical recordings. But now, once all the friends/fans/family buy the mp3, a song needs to be genuinely popular for it to make an long-term impact on the chart. That’s hard to do if the song isn’t a keeper.
  4. It’s hard to get behind amazing pop from New Zealand artists when there just isn’t a lot out there.

But there were still some good tunes released in 2015. Here are 10 in some sort of order.

Disclaimer: If you haven’t listened to chart pop since the ’90s or whenever, you will probably not enjoy anything on this list and should probably just go off and listen to your Smashing Pumpkins compact disc.

Disclosure feat. Lorde “Magnets”

Praise the Lorde. No matter what else New Zealand artists release, we still have Lorde to come along and make everything ok. “Magnets” was a cool and saucy piece of electropop, in collaboration with UK production duo Disclosure. The video has just as much effort put into it, imagining Lorde as a sci-fi SoCal seductress hitwoman. The musical equivalent of #redpeak.

Avalanche City “Inside Out”

This was the only New Zealand song to reach No.1 this year, following one-man-band Avalanche City’s previous chart topper, the cheerful “Love Love Love” in 2011. “Inside Out” is bleak, the heartbreaking tale of a broken relationship, and it seems perfectly attuned for the “crying into a glass of Chardonnay” demographic.

MAALA “Touch”

For ages MAALA’s record company wasn’t saying anything about him, letting his music speak for him, etc. Then finally his true identity was revealed – Evan Sinton. Wait, who? Why was his name obscured? Oh, because he was a contestant on series two of New Zealand’s Got Talent which is approximately the least cool thing ever. As MAALA, Mr Sinton got to reinvent himself with some cool indie electro pop styles, far removed from his crazed NZGT fans and reality TV haters.

Gin Wigmore “New Rush”

2015 was the year of Wigmore dropping the twee folksy pop of previous years and fully embracing her tattooed, pierced, punk-arse style. “New Rush” was noisy and obnoxious and her live performance of the song on The X Factor was one of the few bright moments on that train wreck of a series. The “New Rush” video is very slow-mo Hunger Games.

Jackie Thomas “Until the Last Goodbye”

From what I can tell, Jackie’s new single was delayed to coincide with the second series of The X Factor. But a lot of the heat around her had cooled since 2013, and most Jackie fans would have been happiest if she’d just sang “Skinny Love” again. Instead she had “Until the Last Goodbye”, a sterling piece of Nordic pop, with plenty of that dad-pleasing Lana Del Rey style that saw Jackie win series one. But it didn’t work. She went on a national radio tour, performed it live on The X Factor and did loads of other promo, but the song just didn’t stick. *sadface*

Ginny Blackmore “Under My Feet”

I was going to include Ginny Blackmore’s “Love Me Anyway”, but it throws in an old-style-Eurovision key change and I cannot be seen to condone that sort of behaviour. Instead here’s “Under My Feet”. Blackmore is a good songwriter and a good singer, but a less convincing pop star. But nonetheless, “Under My Feet” is a really enjoyable piece of diva pop.

Beau Monga “King and Queen”

Despite the general awfulness of series two of The X Factor, the winner’s single most unexpectedly ended up being an original composition and one featuring lots of beatboxing. It reached No.2 in the charts, 26 years after Double J and Twice the T’s beatbox heavy song “She’s a Mod/Mod Rap” also charted at No.2. Tbh, I don’t really enjoy beatboxing (ugh, mouth noises), but other people do and this song deserves a mention.

Stan Walker feat. Samantha Jade “Start Again”

In theory, this song seems like it should have been a hit – Stan Walker singing the theme song of a hugely popular dance movie feat. Parris Goebel. But what was it up against in the chart? Really cool stuff like “I Can’t Feel My Face”“Lean On” and “Where Are Ü Now”. Stuff that makes “Start Again” sound so 2013. It had woah-oh-ohs when it should have had heys.

#KiwisCureBatten “Team Ball Player Thing”

How does streaming (or lack thereof) affect the modern charity single? Compare and contrast with the Flight of the Conchords’ 2012 charity single “Feel Inside”. It debuted at No.1 and spent 12 weeks in the charts on sales alone. Whereas “Team Ball” was released in the wild, uncertain world where streaming data contributes to the charts. It debuted at No.2, then quickly dropped to 33 and disappeared entirely the next week. Arguably the song wasn’t as strong as the 2012 single (essentially the same comedy format rehashed), but it wasn’t bad. Just not the sort of song that can even come close to standing up against Bieber and Goulding with streaming.

Six60 “White Lines”

2015 belonged to Six60, so I have to include them. “White Lines” is like a New Zealand version of “Semi-Charmed Life”, a song about taking drugs which matches the manic energy of the drug in question, making its upbeat groove hugely appealing to listeners. Just like cheap speed. Or it can also not be about drugs and just be about getting high on life because New Zealand. It was a double-platinum hit for Six60. And check out the video: made from fan-submitted clips, it shows dozens of New Zealanders hamming to the camera as they get down to their favourite song by their favourite band and it doesn’t even matter what the song is about. A band like this – with their charming, old-fashioned undergrad reggae-pop – can only be huge in New Zealand, but they are properly huge.

Worst New Zealand pop moment of 2015

Before Rachel Platten’s original version of “Fight Song” had even been released in New Zealand, The X Factor final 12 covered it for charity. Despite the individual talents of the contestants, it sounded more like a group rehearsal exercise than a cohesive performance. And then bloody Brendon Thomas jizzed a guitar solo all over it, like it was the 1980s and/or Albania. The X Factor‘s version disappeared from the top 40 after two weeks, while Rachel Platten’s version (sans guitar solo) quickly shot up the charts and became one of the biggest songs of the year. The X Factor version of “Fight Song” symbolises everything that was wrong with series two, post Kills/Moon.

Make yiz mine: 2014 in New Zealand pop

It’s the end of 2014 and there are year-in-review lists galore, but I haven’t been able to find one that’s looking at the year in New Zealand pop music. So I have taken it upon myself to produce such a list. There’s more to New Zealand pop than Lorde, you know (but not much more).

First, it has to be noted that 2014 wasn’t an especially great year for New Zealand pop. It’s one of those quiet years where not many New Zealand tracks end up in the charts, but not every year can be as almighty as 2004 was. I was going to make a top 10, but I couldn’t even come up with 10 worthy songs, so instead here’s the golden eight, in some sort of order.

Benny Tipene “Step On Up”

Thank eff for B. Tipene. He also had success with two other singles in 2014 – “Make You Mine” and “Lonely”, but it’s the aggro-folk sound of “Step On Up” that gets him on this list. B-Tipz is like the ideal X Factor contestant: not burdened with winning, and with enough talent and experience that he can immediately start writing, recording and touring without having to first learn the ropes doing gigs at community fun days.

David Dallas feat. Ruby Frost “The Wire”

This is the opening track of David Dallas’ album Falling Into Place and it’s a hearty dose of sonic coolness. Ruby Frost manages to sweep clear her pink-haired X Factor judging niceness, while Ddot gives the best hip hop vocals of the year (lol). The ending is a bit anticlimactic, but the rest of the song is quality.

Broods “Bridges”

Broods specialise in bittersweet electro-pop, and also had success in 2014 with “Mother & Father”. They brother-sister duo work with Joel Little, who is best known as the lead singer of ’00s teen pop-punk band Goodnight Nurse (and he also won a Grammy for “Royals”) so there’s his skilful minimalist electro sound mixed with Georgia Nott’s delicate vocals. And the brother does something as well.

Lorde “Yellow Flicker Beat”

I feel like I’m cheating putting this in the list, like somehow Lorde doesn’t count as a New Zealand artist because… nah, I got nothing. “Yellow Flicker Beat” might have the kind of drama, attitude and sophistication that you don’t normally get around these parts, but it is still coming straight outta Devonport. It feels like the next step between Pure Heroine-era Lorde and whatever form her next album will take. Like, it’s really good, but the thrill comes from knowing that even better things will come. No pressure.

Stan Walker feat. Ria Hall, Troy Kingi & Maisey Rika “Aotearoa”

The X Factor is all through this list. I take great comfort in series judge Stan Walker. In a patchy year, Stan is still there with two quality songs. “Aotearoa” was released for Maori Language Week, cruelly kept from the No.1 spot by the Madden Brothers. It’s a wonderfully upbeat song, and the video will be emotional catnip for homesick expats for years to come.

Six60 “Special”

This is the power of Six60 – “Special” debuted at number one, has not yet left the top 10, is the 10th highest selling New Zealand single of 2014 and the music video hasn’t even been released. Forget Moorhouse or Titanium – if you’re looking for the New Zealand equivalent of One Direction, it’s Six60. Five good looking lads conveniently disguised as a laid-back roots band. It’s the only way a boyband could be accepted in New Zealand.

Ginny Blackmore & Stan Walker “Holding You”

Stan and Ginny met on the set of The X Factor – she a guest performer, he a judge. They combined forces, wrote a song and created a mighty pop ballad. “Holding You” has a comfortingly old fashioned sound, and it’s only the restrained production style that outs it as a release from 2014. By the way, the video is pleasingly nuts and might even be referencing the Bush/Gabriel hugfest of the “Don’t Give Up” vid 28 years prior.

Timmy Trumpet & Savage “Freaks”

10 years ago, Savage was a popular rapper in his own right. After a few quiet years, he suddenly made a comeback via a remix of “Swing” by Australian producer Joel Fletcher, charting at No.2 in Australia. So with his vocals on “Freaks” by Timmy Trumpet (another Australian producer), Savage seems to have found a new niche as an Australasian Lil Jon, shouting exuberant vocals (“The mighty trumpet!”) over dance tracks. The pro-trumpet propaganda anthem charted at No.1 for five weeks and was the best-selling single by a New Zealand artist in 2014, but as it’s a modern producer-led track, Savage only features on the verses, with the chorus role filled by Mr Trumpet’s digital trumpet. It brings to mind the line from “Swing”: I heard somebody yell ‘Savage, where the chorus at?’ Where indeed, Savage. New Zealand pop single of the year? This is what 2014 has given us.

And here’s a Spotify playlist with the eight tracks, plus a few extras from B-Tipz and Broods.

A journey through saxophone in New Zealand pop in the 1980s

Jerry Rafferty's sax man Raphael Ravenscroft defines the template on "Baker Street
Jerry Rafferty’s sax man Raphael Ravenscroft defines the template on “Baker Street

In 2011, American popstress Lady Gaga released “Edge of Glory” which was notable for its saxophone solo by Bruce Springsteen’s legendary sax man Clarence Clemons. “The sax solo is back,” declared the world of music. Except that didn’t happen. (Or maybe Lady Gaga was so ahead of her time that it’s taking everyone else a while to catch up.)

But this brief rebirth of the sax solo is a good enough excuse to look back at the history of the sax in pop. Patient zero was Jerry Rafferty’s “Baker Street” whose 1978 hit found a new place for the sax solo in popular music.

This kicked off a decade-long trend for sax in pop. Notable works included “Who Can It Be Now” by Men At Work (1981), the sun, surf and sax of Duran Duran’s “Rio” (1983), the smooth sax of George Michael’s “Careless Whisper” (1984), through to INXS’s epic “Never Tear Us Apart” (1988).

Coinciding with the rise of the music video, I can’t help think that the popularity of the saxophone was in part due to how cool it looked. It was not uncommon for the sax player being the only musician shown playing his instrument in a video. The sax is a great big shiny brass instrument that is played with full body emotion. Put the saxophonist in a jacket with the sleeves pushed up and you’ve got instant cool.

But what of the sax in New Zealand pop? Were the musicians of Aotearoa immune from such trends? Of course not. So to celebrate this bold, brassy period, here is a history of the saxophone in New Zealand pop videos of the 1980s.

Jon Stevens “Montego Bay” (1980)

jon-stevens

When the saxophonist only plays on a small part of the song, what do you do with him for the rest of the video? Jon Stevens’ band solves this problem by putting the sax man on cow bell duty, before he stealthily ditches it and lets loose on his sax for the second chorus. Also, the sax cuts a better silhouette than the cardboard palm trees.
NZ On Screen

Screaming Meemees “Stars In My Eyes” (1982)

screaming-mee-mees

The Screaming Meemees were the most indie of all the acts to succumb to the lure of the sax, so it’s not your typical sax appearance. “Stars In My Eyes” has more of a funk brass thing going on, but the video goes all out with this silhouette of the double sax attack. See how the saxes tower over the trumpet, asserting their superiority.
YouTube

Monte Video and the Cassettes “Shoop Shoop Diddy Wop Cumma Cumma Wang Dang” (1982)

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Neither the innuendo-laden song nor the video includes a saxophone, but the video is set at a bar that features a neon saxophone light. Proof that by the early ’80s, the sax was a visual icon of cool. You can’t quite see it in this shot, but there are musical notes coming out of the sax.
NZ On Screen

Sharon O’Neill “Maxine” (1983)

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This is almost as classic as a 1980s video sax solo gets. But as the vid is all about Sharon (and Maxine), the video isn’t interested in who the saxophonist is. We never see his head, only his hands and his sax, playing in a dark bar. (And we know it’s a bar because there is a neon sign reading “BAR”.) This is cut with footage of Shaz looking sensually relaxed, no doubt being soothed by the sax.
NZ On Screen

Tim Finn “Fraction Too Much Friction” (1983)

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The song is full of sax, but I initially thought the video had taken the bold step of being saxless, instead just focusing on Tim strutting his stuff while holding a ghettoblaster. But the lure of the sax was too strong. While the rest of the band might remain invisible, the video can’t resist a few shots of the saxophonist overlaid with smoky, sparkling fireworks.
NZ On Screen

DD Smash “Outlook For Thursday” (1983)

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DD Smash have a lot of fun with the ridiculousness of the sax, using it as both a tool of good and evil. So powerful is the DD Smash brass section that it mortally wounds Dave Dobbyn. Later in the video, we see the gentle side of the brass, gently soothing the hottie drummer as he relaxes in the sun. Perhaps he and Sharon can compare notes on the power of sax relax.
NZ On Screen

Peking Man “Room That Echoes” (1985)

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A saxophone features in this alternate video for “Room That Echoes”, but here’s the kicker: no one plays it. It just rests on its stand at the back of the room (that echoes), looking all cool while the Urlich siblings dance around it. It’s almost like some sort of pagan ritual, in which the god of ’80s cool is invoked. And for a song that is more about style over substance, that’s a perfectly logical and successful choice.
YouTube

Left, Right and Centre “Don’t Go” (1985)

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When the sax is joined by another member of the brass family, it’s usually a trumpet. But not when Don McGlashan is involved. This protest song against the planned 1985 All Black tour of South Africa features Don on his euphonium and Rick Bryant on sax. In any other video, this might be enough to stand out, but the joyous heart of the “Don’t Go” video is Chris Knox with a giant mullet and denim cut-offs.
NZ On Screen

Netherworld Dancing Toys “For Today” (1985)

netherworld

For a song that’s jam-packed full of brass, the “For Today” video exercises great restraint, with only a few brief shots of the brass section. Even during the big climatic build-up, the brass players are seen in the background cautiously jumping around with their instruments. The focus is wisely given to the stars of the video – Annie Crummer and the Interislander ferry.
NZ On Screen

Sonny Day “Savin’ Up” (1985)

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“Savin’ Up” was a cover of a Bruce Springsteen song originally recorded by his (and Lady Gaga’s) saxophonist Clarence Clemons, so it’s no wonder that the sax player in the video gets the star treatment. Sonny Day’s line-up of backing singers (including Annie Crummer) parts and the tight-trousered saxophonist steps forward to deliver his bitchin’ solo, accentuating the piece with strategic hip thrusts. The backing singers are so impressed they give him jazz hands.
NZ On Screen

Peking Man “Good Luck to You” (1986)

peking-man-luck

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This pouty, urban love letter to pre-crash Auckland begins with an amazing shot. Margaret Urlich sits in the window of the much loved cafe DKD. Below her at the cafe’s entrance, the saxophonist poses in the doorway, while playing the song’s introduction. Despite the bitter lyrics of the song, there’s something rather romantic about this shot.
NZ On Screen

Tex Pistol “The Game of Love” (1987)

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I’m not sure, but the brass on this synth-heavy song also sounds electronic, so it’s further testament to visual power of the sax that it was included in the video. The slick, minimalist video keeps it simple with Ian Morris and Callie Blood having a side-on his-n-hers brass-off (that’s a showbiz term) on the wet, black set.
NZ On Screen

Herbs “Sensitive to a Smile” (1987)

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“Sensitive to a Smile” is largely a tribute to the people and environment of Ruatoria. But even the old kuias, the cheeky kids and the dreadlocked bros must step aside for a while to let the sax man have his moment of glory.
NZ On Screen

80 in the Shade “Heatwave” (1987)

heatwave

This all-star pop extravaganza came together not for charity but to make an ad for L&P with a scorching cover of the Martha and the Vandellas hit. There’s sax all through it, but the saxophonist appears just once near the end. I suspect this is partly because sax was become a bit uncool, and partly because the sax player wasn’t anyone famous, so they drafted in a model to play the part.
YouTube

When the Cat’s Away “Melting Pot” (1988)

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By the late ’80s, the pop sax was on its last legs, with the instrument instead lurking in the background, underscoring the other instruments. But the visual lure of sax was still strong. Near the end of the video, the Cats are seen with three saxophones and two trumpets, showing a much bigger brass sound than what is actually heard. They’re clearly having a ball mucking around with the instruments, which makes me wonder what it would have sounded like during the video shoot.
NZ On Screen

Dave Dobbyn “Love You Like I Should” (1988)

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Margaret Urlich makes yet another appearance, this time shimmying around Dave Dobbyn in a midriff exposing bolero jacket. But lurking in the background behind Marg and Dave are two sax dudes, playing the bass honks on cue. They are given a couple of shots early on, but the video’s focus is on Urlich and Dobbyn’s folk dancing.
NZ On Screen

Holidaymakers “Sweet Lovers” (1988)

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By the time I came to watch this video, I’d developed an instinct for sax spotting. I didn’t remember there being a saxophonist in this video, but something told me otherwise. And there it was – less than a minute before the song’s end, the fellow who had previously been shaking some maracas suddenly appears with a sax and squeezes out some barely audible notes. By this stage it seems like the sax was well on its way out, being kept in only for its strong visual appeal.
NZ On Screen

Maybe the sax was part of the bright, exciting, affluent part of the ’80s that started to wither with the 1987 stockmarket crash. It’s not so economical to have a band member who spends a lot of the time standing around, swaying from side to side, waiting for his few seconds of glory. The economical grunge era had no room for such excesses.

The sax didn’t totally die out, but rather than being the cool thing that everyone did, it was left to acts who understood the power of the sax and could harness its power. It lived on in the kids of the ’80s who grew up immersed in the sax pop. Acts like the effervescent Supergroove, jazz master Nathan Haines, and genre mixers Fat Freddys Drop all found a place for sax.

So while the full-on sax solo may have tooted its last toot, that bold brass instrument will always have a place in the world of New Zealand pop. *Honk*

shoop-shoop-2

Aspects of a downhill slide

I came across Wikipedia’s list of songs that have been in the #1 spot in the New Zealand pop charts for over eight weeks continuously. These are the songs that everyone loved and loved so much that they just kept buying them more and more and playing them more and more.

Figuring this says something about New Zealand, I went to YouTube and listened to all the songs. These are my scientific findings.

Dawn featuring Tony Orlando – “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree“, 1973. (10 weeks)
There’s something magical ’bout “Ribbon”. On the surface it sounds like a novelty song, with its oompah beat and simple lyrics. But then there’s a killer melody lurking, and the emotional depths of an ex-con who finds his woman still loves him. I can’t help but love it, and shall tie a yellow ribbon around my ole MP3 player.

Pussycat – “Mississippi“, 1976. (10 weeks)
Where did this song come from? And where did it go? Pussycat were a Dutch girl group, and “Mississippi” was their lament to the popularity of rock over country music. It has that not-quite-America feeling to it, largely due to the Eastern European guitar flourishes. This song seems like a case of pop actually eating itself – a sweet country pop farewelled country music, and then was swallowed whole by punk. Or was it?

Boney M. – “Rivers of Babylon“, 1978. (14 weeks)
“Rivers of Babylon” was originally written by reggae band The Melodians, with the lyrics almost straight from Psalms 137. Boney M’s version took the rough, glorious Jamaican original and added some European glamour and disco cool, turning it into a cheerful pop hit. Its 14-week run also makes it the single with the longest run at #1 (that’s three and a half months). This tune helped reggae cross over and made it an Aotearoan favourite. Without the success of “Rivers of Babylon”, there would be no barbecue dub today.

All Of Us – “Sailing Away“, 1986. (9 weeks)
It’s eight years before another song has a long run at number one, and this time it’s a New Zealand song. But does it have to be “Sailing Away”? This was New Zealand’s attempt at a “We Are the World” style group song. But rather than being in aid of or protesting apartheid, it was virtually an ad to get the general public to support the New Zealand boat in the America’s Cup. The song was a who’s who of New Zealand singers, many of whom are better known as ad jingle singers. Also, those guys from Satellite Spies – whose idea was it get them on board? New Zealand lost, both the Louis Vuitton Cup and musically.

Whitney Houston – “I Will Always Love You“, 1992-1993. (11 weeks)
Hey, Pussycat! Country didn’t die – it was reworked into soul. Dolly Parton‘s ’70s ballad became a powerhouse tune for a pre-crack Whitney Houston to belt out on the soundtrack of “The Bodyguard”. I can’t quite understand why this song was so popular – it’s like a sticky caramel – once is ok, but more than that in one sitting becomes rather unpleasant.

UB40 – “Can’t Help Falling in Love“, 1993. (10 weeks)
Ok, so it’s a cover version (tick), of an Elvis song (tick), in a reggae style (tick), by UB40 (tick) – it’s almost a perfect New Zealand number one song. The video is particularly hilarious, with UB40’s cheery performance cut with scenes from the Sharon Stone shithouse thriller “Sliver”. What was it about the early ’90s that required such massive declarations of love in pop form? (Meanwhile, down the other end of the charts, grunge was getting all up in your face.)

Avril Lavigne – “Complicated“, 2002. (9 weeks)
Hey, Pussycat II! Country didn’t die – it was cleverly disguised as skater punk. I mean, sk8r punk, man. Take the cute teen girl, iron her hair, give her some eyeliner and proto-emo jeans and everyone will be so distracted with her California skater chick look that they’ll overlook the fact that she is singing a bloody country song. The big love of the early ’90s had changed its Facebook status to “It’s complicated”.

Smashproof featuring Gin Wigmore – “Brother“, 2009. (11 weeks)
Finally. It’s a New Zealand song that enjoyed a long run at number one and it’s a really good song. Based on smooth strings, reminiscent of “Unfinished Sympathy“, the song examines the reality of growing up in South Auckland. It took 23 years for “Sailing Away” to lose its top spot, but when it finally happened, its arse was kicked.

Lady Gaga – “Poker Face“, 2008-2009. (10 weeks)
“Poker Face” sounds a bit like ’80s synth pop and a bit like ’90s Euro dance pop, but a song sounding like this would never ever have topped the charts in those decades. There’s a bit of the ol’ Tony Orlando magic there – the elements of a potentially naff song, but something wondrous that pulls it all together into a perfect pop song about poker and/or sex.

Black Eyed Peas – “I Gotta Feeling“, 2009. (9 weeks)
I used to work with a guy who’d sit at his desk, headphones on, singing “Tonight’s gonna be a good night,” over and over. I didn’t know the song, but I imagined that line was a small part of the whole. It turns out that line is pretty much the entire song, an ode to the early, hopeful, exciting part of the evening, when your make-up still looks good and you’re not sitting on the staircase crying into your twelfth wine.

Stan Walker – “Black Box“, 2009-2010. (10 weeks)
Stan’s the 2009 winner of Australian Idol, and this is the winner’s song. Insert pop idol here. It’s a perfectly fine pop song, one that has benefitted from the accompanying TV show to boost its popularity. Curiously enough, “Black Box” only ever made it to #2 in the Australian charts. Stan did better in his homeland, making the efforts of TrueBliss and the NZ Idol winners pale in comparison.

The pop charts of Tony Orlando’s day are very different to the charts of Stan Walker’s time. It’s a careful blend of physical music sales, digital sales and radio play. But it makes me wonder – in 35 years time, will Stan Walker (or indeed Lady Gaga) be as well known still as Boney M, or as delightfully obscure as Pussycat?

Further reading
John-Paul at Man of Errors has a splendid series looking at the New Zealand number one songs in 1973, including “Tie A Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree“.

Hold on

You will recall about a week ago when I was expressing outrage at the predominance of the “Nature’s Best” compilation CD as the hold music of so many New Zealand government departments and corporations.

Well, this inspired Stacezilla to check out was what playing on his company’s phone system. He writes…

Ugh I just checked ours and lo and behold Natures Best indeedy..

You have a unique opportunity to now submit what it SHOULD be replaced by as I am the power that be in our particular Govt Dept.

I’m not convinced by “More Nature” as the idea of purposely subjecting others to any of the following is not my idea of kindness.

“Harmonic Generator” – The Datsuns
“Welcome Home” – Dave Dobbyn
“Clav Dub” – Rhombus
“I Got” – Fast Crew

Ours is run off an ipod hooked into the PABX (don’t ask about format shifting) so it needn’t necessarily be an album, it can be a megamix from a stack of albums we’ll go out and buy.

So really, come up with a list of NZ music with a focus on post 05 (maybe a few classics). Open it to more peoplecomments if you want.

Join the Panel of Selectors….

So I had a think about this. So far I reckon “Hitchcock” by the Phoenix Foundation would be really good hold music, and maybe something by SJD. I’m not even much of an SJD fan, but his music just seems like it would be nice to listen to while on hold. Hmm.

I was talking ’bout this with my friend Mike, and he suggested some drum ‘n’ bass, but I get the feeling that listening to Concord Dawn while waiting on hold might not work well.

So, given this chance to decide the hold music that gets played on real phone system, what good, recent New Zealand music do you think should be on the list?

Numero

1. Kim Gordon is now 50. It’s not quite time for Sonic Youth to change their name to Sonic Oldies, but in nine years’ time when Steve Shelley turns 50, they should consider it. It should be noted that Kim Gordon still rocks hard. It should also be noted that I went off Sonic Youth about six years ago when I was talking to a 19 year old Smashing Pumpkins fan who was getting into Sonic Youth because Billy Corgan had cited them as an influence. It should also be be noted that “Goo” and “Dirty” are the best Sonic Youth albums, and anyone who reckons their pre-Geffen stuff is better is a poser.

2. I just watched “Logan’s Run” on DVD. When “Minority Report” came out Spielberg was going on about how they created the future world by taking the stuff we have now and projecting it into the future. Well, y’know, that’s also what the designers did when they were creating the 23rd century utopia of “Logan’s Run”. Only it looks very much like 1976. Like a 1976 mall. I expect in 30 years’ time “Minority Report” will look the same. Oh how we will chuckle at the cheesy special effects.

3. I was at a juice bar today and I ordered a smoothie. I paid for it with my credit card, but their machine did not accept credit card payments. It was really busy, so both the girls working there were busy making all the orders, and no one noticed that my transaction hadn’t gone through. I stood there with a ten dollar note in my hand waiting to be asked for an alternative method of payment, but it didn’t happen. One of them went up to the machine, ripped off the paper with the error message printed on it, then went back to making smoothies. When mine was made the girl gave it to me and went back to making more. Oh well.

4. You know what I’m really sick of at the moment? The New Zealand music scene. This is rather bad timing as May is New Zealand Music Month. I think I might have to not listen to any radio, not watch any music TV, not read any music press. Yes, I may make it to June with my sanity intact.

5. Oh, there’s this great scene in “Logan’s Run” where Logan and Jessica, after having been soaked with water, find themselves in an icy winterland. They find some furry animal skins to wear, but Logan suggests first that they take off their other clothes so they don’t have the cold, wet clothing on. This of course means that Jessica must show us her boobies. Then moments later, after the freaky mirror robot comes along, they put their clothes back on. Now that is actual gratuitous nudity. None of this pretend gratuitous nudity that my generation prides itself on.

6. Speaking of nudity, oh how scandalous it is to see the Big Brother housemates showering naked, and how nice those ones are who shower in their swimsuits or underwear. But then, hey, isn’t it normal to shower in the nude?

Government Funded Music Videos

One of the choice things about New Zealand is the fact that for the last ten years the government has been giving money to bands to make music videos.

Pre-1991, if a band wanted to make a music video it was up to them or their record company to fund it. As things were back then, most of the struggling bands were signed to small record labels without huge promotion budgets.

This resulted in the low budget music video standards: the live performance, the group of friends mucking around in someone’s backyard, and my personal favourite – jigging about in front of a blue screen. All shot on really cheap looking video.

The impressionable youth of the time looked at such music videos and thought to themselves, “man, New Zealand bands suck,” and went off to buy a Vanilla Ice tape, when they could have been buying Upper Hutt Posse. So someone, some good person, decided that one way to make New Zealand music more appealing would be to give struggling bands some cash to make better videos.

So every year NZ On Air gets truckloads of cash from the government. According to their website, in the 2001/2002 financial year, they had $79,000,000 to give to starving artists involved in the world of the broadcasting arts. Of that, $450,000 goes towards music video production. It’s split up into 90 grants of $5000 for bands that have choice tracks to offer the world of music.

Apart from the obvious criteria of having to be New Zealand music, the only other requirement is “airplay potential”. What this means is that it’s not just good songs from good bands that get funding. Popular, lowest-common-denominator type bands – ones who are little more than New Zealand version of American bands – get funding too.

The “airplay potential” criteria also means that the videos produced aren’t necessarily groundbreaking creative masterpieces. Girls in short skirts? Guys running around in funny costumes? It’s all there.

And just because a band gets five grand to make a video doesn’t mean they’re going to make a good video. Sure some bands have are fortunate enough to have a record company who will throw in some extra cash and get something good made, but I don’t think lack of cash is too much of an excuse. Back when I was at tech pretending to be a film student, there were people making no-budget music videos for their mates that looked really good.

But despite the occasional crap video for a crap song from a crap band that gets NZ on Air funding, for the most part the videos are OK. It’s caused the death of jigging about in front of a blue screen, and created good videos that aren’t embarrassing to watch.

The New Zealand government gives bands money to make music videos – that’s so cool.